As many are aware, Guelph council is in the midst of planning the 2021 City Budget. And after spending the past few weeks digesting all of the information, as well as public input, I’d like to offer some thoughts on what an appropriate and responsible 2021 Guelph City Budget might look like.
In May of this year I wrote about the City’s commitment over the past six years to “save in the good times“, and how this commitment has set the City on a firm foundation to respond to the COVID public health and economic crisis (Link Here). I wrote about the city’s tax rate stabilization reserve being completely rebuilt since 2014 ($2.1M, to a projected balance of over $13M in 2020); and the city’s total contingency reserves being rebuilt from $10.8M (2014), to a projected balance of over $23.4M (2020).
So as a follow up to this article, I’d like to offer a second (equally important) piece to the equation. “Save in the good times…………in order to stimulate in the bad.” Since the 1930’s this has become a core function of Government (stimulate during recessions), in order to cushion economic impacts and excelerate recovery; and this function is something Guelph is well situated to perform.
Armed with healthy reserves, Council must focus on responding to the thousands in our community who are still out of work; have returned only part time; have lost a business; or, are facing another round of income insecurity this winter. To achieve this, one thing is clear. Council must work harder to minimize the tax increase in 2021 (currently projected to be 3.6%), all while committing to targeted and immediate reserve funding of community supports to promote resiliency and recovery. Community Grants, Arts and Tourism, Youth Sports, Care Facilities, Welcoming Streets Initiatives, Small Business Tax Reductions (just to name a few), all need to be supported in 2021. And because of our collective success in rebuilding reserves, we can do this. All while acknowledging the impact this pandemic has had on Guelph households and small businesses by minimizing the tax increase. These adjustments (funding through reserves) are no different then what every household in our community is having to do this year.
Further, through this strategy, council will be modelling a similar approach to the provincial and federal government‘s pandemic relief and recovery initiatives (i.e. payroll support, rent relief etc), by focussing on immediate funding needs while keeping an eye on recovery.
City Council, City staff and the executive team have done diligent work over the past six years putting us in the financial position we are in today. Now it’s time to provide targeted support in 2021, which includes minimizing a property tax increase.